Last year, my biology teacher started telling my class about overpopulation. This wasn’t actually in the course, but nevertheless he told us plenty in that 50 minute period. The part of the lesson which I particularly remember is when he told my class that overpopulation was causing the climate crisis. I didn’t think too much about this back then, but this year gave me a little too much chance to reflect on it, and to educate myself. Ironically, one of the few pieces of education I got on the climate crisis was actually misinformed.
By saying overpopulation is causing climate change, My teacher was telling my class three things: the climate crisis is unsolvable; everyday people are to blame for climate change; and highly populated countries are the big polluters. All three of these things are wrong.
Firstly, climate scientists have shown the ways to mitigate the effects of the climate crisis, and by saying that overpopulation causes the emergency we are facing both undermines the work of these scientists and frames the crisis as something which simply cannot be solved. If polluting businesses are told that the problems they are causing are actually due to there being ‘too many people,’ the problem is suddenly no longer theirs to solve. Big polluters, the ones who are most to blame for the warming planet, are let off the hook and there is suddenly no way to solve the crisis. After all, what ethical thing is there to do with too many people?
Secondly, if big businesses and problematic governments are not held accountable, the blame falls to everyday people. This happens time and time again when it comes to climate change- normal people get the blame for problems they didn't cause. Of course, individuals aren’t being told that it is their fault alone, but still the blame is passed onto everyday people, and makes people feel guilty for just existing. Big polluters need to be held accountable for this catastrophe, and blaming the population for being too big is not the way to do this.
Thirdly, by saying that overpopulation causes the climate crisis, it makes sense that as population decreases, so too do carbon emissions, right? Well, surprise surprise, it doesn't quite match up. The USA releases around 15% of global emissions, and makes up for just under 5% of the global population, while India accounts for 7 percent of emissions and 18 percent of the global population. To further this, every single low-income country emits less than their share of carbon dioxide, the majority of lower-middle income countries emit less than their share, upper middle countries have a mix of above and below their share, and all high-income countries emit more than their fair share. Suddenly, the focus has moved away from population. If the climate crisis is blamed on overpopulation, it is automatically countries with high, rapidly growing populations who take the blame, when in reality it is the countries with lower, aging populations who are to blame for the majority of carbon emissions. If we pass the blame to higher populated countries, polluting countries, which should actually hold the blame, get let off the hook.
The idea that the climate crisis is caused by overpopulation is a widely spread theory, and while it may have an influence on the climate, we should be focusing on removing the causes which can be removed and taking down the systems which fail to properly deal with the crisis. As a side note, we should also be taught about this, accurately, in school.